Q&A: What Life Raft Do You Have On Morgan’s Cloud?

Question: What sort of life raft do you have on Morgan’s Cloud?

Answer: We have an RFD Beaufort 6-person commercial SOLAS raft.

The advantage of this raft is that Revere and RFD Beaufort are partners in it: Revere in the USA and RFD Beaufort for the rest of the world. Or at least that seems to be how it works, although you can buy a RFD Beaufort in the USA too. Anyway, this means that you can get these rafts serviced at any of some 300 RFD Beaufort service stations anywhere in the world as well as at Revere stations in the USA. For example, there are 23 service depots in Norway.

Contrast that to many of the American-built rafts from companies like Switlik, Winslow or Givens that can only be serviced in major yachting centers. This is not a trivial issue if you plan to sail to out-of-the-way places, as we found to our cost when we had to ship our old Givens to the UK from Norway to get it serviced—the shipping cost twice what the service did.

Having said that, I’m not sure that the RFD Beaufort is as good a raft as the top of the line offerings from the above companies. It was certainly a lot cheaper, even though we opted for a commercial quality raft that is SOLAS certified. However, we are comfortable with the RFD because, in our opinion, the most likely scenarios which would force us into the raft are fire or flooding, not extreme weather. Frankly, we think it unlikely that we would make it into the raft alive in a storm strong enough to overwhelm Morgan’s Cloud, so whether or not the RFD is the ultimate storm survival raft is academic to us.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

17 comments… add one
  • Nemo Sep 26, 2010, 10:47 pm

    Nice to hear someone saying loud and clear that the main “reasons” to carry a raft is to avoid getting grilled in a fire 🙂 This was our main reason to move the raft from its position fore of the mast to a new cradle in the aft (last place to stand on while sinking (?) and favourite place to run to when the fire alarm goes off).

    When we lost our raft in a storm in the North Sea in January we learnt two lessons:

    1. Securing the raft is important. Really secure it, not just tamper proof and/or safe for the thieves 😉
    2. Trying to get an empty raft back to the boat in pitch dark and high seas was NOT easy (and in our case “impossible” since we sailed downwind on the rig towing the darn thing after a while…)
    3. Hmmm. Three lessons that is…: looking further into the raft- business (the dropped one was a brand new expensive one – money and labels (Solas etc) should do the trick we thought…?) we got the feeling that all the “extras” sometimes is just about the right size of reflective tape or a few extra centilitres of water). So now we settled for a used raft that we could test in practice on our own boat and then reload/serviced with what WE like in the magic bag: a few extra flares, one spare VHF (10year batteries) and a small bottle of Moët…

    Found your very very nice site today while reading up on seasickness (isn’t that just great irony: setting out for a cruise without ending, and after not even a year realise that I never seem to be free from the sickness 🙂

    Thanks for a good site!

    • John Sep 29, 2010, 6:44 am

      Hi Nemo(s),

      Very good point. We too moved our raft from just aft of the mast to the stern. Like you, we also improved the tie downs too.

      Yikes! What were you doing in the North Sea in January? You are a lot braver than us—you crazy Vikings :-).

  • Nick Kats Sep 29, 2010, 6:02 am

    Beth & Evans Starzinger have a different outlook on liferafts, see their website.
    Their position is:
    No liferaft. Too unreliable – very high failure rate. Not multifunctional. Expensive to buy & to service. Takes up space.

    Fire at sea implies reasonably calm conditions (you don’t cook or light up the stove in extreme conditions). An ordinary dinghy may be sufficient.

    Very much worth while reading what the Starzingers say on this issue, clear, well reasoned, and against the flow of prevalent thinking. To find, google bethandevans, go to FAQs, go to the article on Liferafts.

    Nick Kats

  • John Sep 29, 2010, 6:37 am

    Hi Nick,

    Yes it’s another view, from very experienced voyagers who we respect, but not one we subscribe to. Keep in mind that we keep our dinghy deflated below while at sea. We would be done to a turn (cooked), by the time we got it on deck and inflated.

    Also, we frequently cook in heavy weather since it is just the time you need a good hot meal or drink. Also, many fires on boats are electrical not cooking related.

  • Nemo Sep 29, 2010, 5:35 pm

    Agree with John here, fire on the stove is my least problem, then you are close to it, can see it coming and FIGHT it with fire-blanket or a CO2-extinguisher. Electrical problem with “slow” fire and maybe behind insulation somewhere is my worst nightmare if any. We also carry the dinghy below deck so a raft is handy in that case. As with most safety equipment it just FEEL nice to have, rescue your crew from the ocean could of course be avoided if one always uses the harness and so on. But then there is Murphy… 🙂 And standing there wishing you had an raft that day is not for me anyway. Then again I like to take a bit of risks so I might need a bit more toys than others.

    We are running our Dickson diesel-stove while sailing and there is a chance of fire, running motor is another and god knows there are a few electrical connections there somewhere that just “should be fixed soon”.

    And to John: What we were doing in the North Sea in January? Gaining experience I like to think of it now a few months later 🙂 It’s probably something I might avoid when I grow up and get a new wife some day 😉 About “crazy” and “brave” in the same sentence I do not really agree. Taking your old car to work in a snowy morning before your morning coffee, driving at 110 km/h with the only ground-contact of 4 small patches of rubber to an icy road – THAT is crazy. And people do it over and over all the time. Going to sea in January in a pretty safe boat with all those hundreds of gadgets like AIS, radar, EPIRBs, harnesses, automatically inflatable life vest, sat phone and so on on a large ocean almost without anything or anyone to crash into – that must be some of the safest things to do. That is my idea of it 🙂

    • John Oct 1, 2010, 5:59 pm

      Hi Nemo,

      I think you are absolutely right, driving at speed, particularly in winter is way more dangerous than offshore sailing, even in the North Sea in January.

      A good idea to get heavy weather experience and test your boat in a controlled way too.

  • Nick Kats Sep 30, 2010, 7:02 am

    John & Nemo (?)

    Fire at sea from any cause, or abandonment of the boat for any reason, is likely to be in Force 6 or less. How often is it Force 7 or more? 5% of the time? My hard dinghy & sailing inflatable with inner & outer tubes are both stowed on deck, and both are OK in Force 6 & under. My point here is look at the odds, and if you are Ok with them, take the gamble.

    But this really is a trivial point on the relevance of liferafts. There is so much more to consider. The Starzingers’ fresh & thoughtful article on this subject is far too broad for me to paraphrase here. You have to go there – Nemo, did you read it?

    I have mentioned the unreliability of liferafts. From the Starzingers’ verbatim:

    “In NZ about 20 cruising boats got together to get their rafts repacked. Before repacking they all pulled their inflation cords and about 1/3 did not inflate, 1/3 inflated but promptly deflated, and only 1/3 inflated and stayed inflated (this after the rafts were on average 2 years at sea). More recently the Concordia launched 4 rafts and one failed (tube burst). Thats a 25% failure rate for commercial SOLAS grade, annually serviced and inspected rafts.”

    I have no place for unreliable equipment on my boat. Any comments on the reliability of life rafts?


    • John Oct 1, 2010, 6:14 pm

      Hi Nick,
      Yes, I have read Evans and Beth’s entire piece on why they don’t carry a life raft. They are also friends that I have great respect for.

      And I agree that the case for a raft is not clear cut. Having said that, and after weighing the issues for many years, we do carry a life raft. Just one of the many reasons that we do is that we sail in cold areas and want to have a canopy over our heads, something that most dinghies do not have. Also, if we are in a remote place like east Greenland and lose the boat, say to fire, the raft would make a good makeshift tent on land. That’s just two of our reasons, there are many others.

      As to raft reliability, its a hard one. Sure E&B’s article has some disturbing anecdotal information. However, there is one vital piece of information missing: how long was it since the rafts that failed were inspected and repacked by a reputable and certified station?

      I suspect that since the boats had recently arrived in NZ, it might have been a while, perhaps several years. I do believe, although I can’t prove it, that life raft reliability falls off very quickly as time from repack goes over a year.

      Finally, let us not forget that many lives are saved each year by life rafts. The recent sinking of the sail training ship Concordia comes to mind. I think I’m right in saying that if she had not been equipped with rafts, most, perhaps all, of the crew would have been lost since it would have been very difficult to deploy boats quickly enough in the situation she was in.

      It’s a hard one and If you and E&B don’t carry a raft, we won’t say you are wrong or think any the less of you as seamen.

  • Nemo Sep 30, 2010, 6:13 pm

    Hi again!

    First off: my name is Andreas and my “nick” is Nemo 🙂
    English is not my native language so forgive me for a few misunderstandings.

    Ok, first of all. Yes I have read most of the info of the Starzingers good pages during a few years now. Lot of interesting stuff to learn! But one do not have to agree with everything even if they are far more experienced, there are as many approaches to sailing as there are boats I guess. Mixing a rich American with our own Sven Yrvind (SWE) and mix again with the french Cat-lovers like Peyron you get a lot of different answers.

    This was just my approach. And I´m open to change any thought as I go along. Right now I stuck at a slow internet cafe in Mindelo, Cape Verde so I have to read up more another day on this! Take care”

  • Dick Stevenson Sep 18, 2012, 4:20 am

    John, Just a note to you and your readers. Winslow liferafts have a raft servicing in Belgium and the company pays for shipping. Not sure how widely the offer extends. We had ours re-packed while over-wintering in Barcelona (2010) and all went well. Those interested should contact the company for details. Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Brad Manter Feb 24, 2018, 10:47 am

    What is your view of locating a canister-style raft on deck (between dodger and mast) vs. carrying it on the stern rail? I’ve read of one voyager saying if it is forward of the cockpit, it might as well be on the moon…. I have no good spot in a cockpit locker for a valise. Would welcome any comments and advise on this. (Valiant Esprit 37). Thank you!

    • John Feb 25, 2018, 9:11 am

      Hi Brad,

      That’s a big question. I guess in choosing between the two places I would come down narrowly in favour of a really robust mount forward of the cockpit, but aft of the mast. I just don’t like to see a lot of stuff attached to a stern rail, particularly heavy stuff like a liferaft, because most rails are just not strong enough for that use.

      As to the “might as well be on the moon” comment, I really don’t see that as being true since if the crew can’t get to the raft on the cabin top it’s pretty unlikely that they will be able to launch and get into it.

      In fact, our thinking is that the primary reasons we carry a raft are fire and sudden flooding, not heavy weather. Our thinking is that if the weather is bad enough to overwhelm our boat, the chances of safely getting into the raft are slim to none.

  • Peter John Goldsmith Aug 11, 2018, 5:42 pm

    Givens Buoy life rafts seem to have gone out of business.

    • John Aug 12, 2018, 9:08 am

      Hi Peter,

      Yes, I believe that’s right, and I think it was at least 10 years ago. Note that this is a very old post. We now have a Viking.

  • Bill Dec 8, 2018, 11:05 am

    I know this is an old post, but I’m trying to decide if I need a liferaft. Last May we cruised for the first time to the Bahamas from Florida on our not very seaworthy boat (Island Packet SP Cruiser “motorsailer” with big rear and forward cockpits with small scuppers) and had no life raft. If I’m only cruising to the Bahamas, should I get a liferaft?

    Also, for my boat, what minimum safety equipment would you recommend if only cruising in the Bahamas? Should every boat have a mounted EPIRB? I only have one PLB I mount to my auto inflate PFD currently. I don’t want to go crazy on safety gear, but I wonder if I have enough.

    • John Dec 9, 2018, 8:49 am

      Hi Bill,

      A really interesting question. The difficulty with answering it is that safety is a continuum, not binary: safe or not safe. In your case, there is no question in my mind that you would be safer with a float free EPIRB and a liferaft, but that does not necessarily mean you should buy one or both since the actual risk of something happening to you in the type of cruising you do is very small, assuming you, know what you are doing, maintain your boat properly and pick good weather windows for the GS crossing. Bottom line, each of us must make these calls based on our own risk tolerance.

      What I can say is that if you asked me to go with you to cross to the Bahamas, I would be willing to go without raft or EPIRB as long as a good sized dinghy was inflated and ready to go with a waterproof hand held VHF close to hand (in case of fire or sudden flooding). But then I have fairly high risk tolerance (less as I get older) and huge experience, which might help us if things went wrong, so even that statement does not tell you what you should do.

      This article may help you make the final call on this and other gear: https://www.morganscloud.com/2018/10/26/11-things-we-do-to-stay-rational-about-safety/

  • Ee Kiat Goh Sep 3, 2019, 7:07 am

    I dont have a lot of sailing miles under my belt but would like to contribute a small lesson learnt. My boat came with a Givens Buoy liferaft. As we were mostly sailing around coastal seas, I did not bother paying attention at the liferaft that was just sitting behind the mast. Then one day when I was up in Phuket, Thailand, for some work, I thought i may as well get the liferaft serviced since I am carrying it on board. So I did. The service centre serviced a lot of liftrafts of different makes and they assure me they are competent to service mine. Well, what can me more complicated than opening up a can of inflatable raft, clean it up and put it back, just like a winch isnt it. The activated the liferaft and it opened nicely after about 7 years of no service. So they serviced it and put it all back. 4 years later (now) i went back to them for another service and lo and behold, it did not open up at all. in fact, it was all caked up inside and had to be written off (no confidence vote). So, i am in the market for a new liferaft and looking through this webpage. I wished i had read this years ago and be aware that there are authorized service centre for liftrafts… unlike a winch. I suspect that was the reason for my damaged liferaft and I have been sailing like my life depended on it. Something to think about on the reliability of a piece of safety equipment.. and their back ups..

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